Indo-M'sia ties important, govt must explain Tajuddin's appointment, say academicians

PETALING JAYA: There must be a public explanation over Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman's latest appointment as ambassador to Indonesia because diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the republic are one of the most important bilateral ties in the region.

Azmi Hassan, a senior fellow at Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research (NASR), said there's nothing surprising about political appointees being ambassadors, as there were multiple occasions in the past where politicians were appointed to the position.

"But, to pick Tajuddin as an ambassador for Malaysia? That's a surprise, because Indonesia is an important partner to us and the ambassador must really comprehend Indonesia-Malaysia relations," Azmi said.

Azmi recounted the incident on May 26 last year, where Tajuddin was terminated as the Prasarana Malaysia Bhd chairman after a disastrous press conference he gave on the LRT crash at the Kelana Jaya line.

"Tajuddin couldn't even make a coherent statement as the Prasarana chairman, especially on issues relating to the trains colliding.

"As the ambassador to Indonesia, you must be on top of your form, and you must be very sensitive to our relationship with Jakarta.

"In this case, it is shocking and a lot of explanation needs to be done," said Azmi.

During the press conference, Tajuddin was also fined for breaching Covid-19 protocols after he appeared wearing a face-shield without a mask.

Meanwhile, Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, also said Tajuddin wasn't the first politician appointed as an ambassador.

"I recall Tun Musa Hitam being appointed as the permanent representative (ambassador) to the United Nations and the late Tan Sri Jamaluddin Mohd Jarjis as ambassador to the US.

"By all accounts, they were both more than well-qualified and did good jobs in representing the country on the world stage," said Oh.

Oh also cited Tajuddin's disastrous press conference on May 26 last year, and noted that the Pasir Salak MP could be appointed as the ambassador to Indonesia due to his contributions to Umno.

But, Oh wasn't optimistic about Tajuddin's appointment.

"It could only be earnestly prayed that important bilateral relations would not be overly jeopardised during his term," Oh said.

There have been multiple criticisms over Tajuddin's appointment and the Pasir Salak MP said he will soon respond to his detractors.

"I will... but wait for the right time" he said in a brief text to The Star on Wednesday (May 18).

Tajuddin will be replacing former senior diplomat Zainal Abidin Bakar, who had served as ambassador to Indonesia who had served since 2018.

On Nov 9 last year, Tajuddin was spotted accompanying Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob on an official trip to Indonesia, fuelling speculation that he would be appointed to the position.

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